Sunday, 30 April 2017

Spencer Davis Group: Waltz For Lumumba (1966)

This wonderfully hedonistic instrumental track which first appeared on the 1966 album Autumn '66 and then the 1967 album I'm A Man by The Spencer Davis Group. Its arguably one of their best songs but often unheard of.

It was recycled as Waltz For Caroline for the 1968 film Here We Go Round The Muberry Bush; a 1967 British teensploitation film based on the novel of the same name by Hunter Davies. It was listed to compete at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the events of May 1968 in France. Viva la revolución!

Plot summary: Frustrated that he still hasn't lost his virginity, teenage grocery store delivery boy Jamie McGregor (Barry Evans) appeals to Spike (Christopher Timothy, of James Herriot fame), an older ladies' man, for advice. After failing to seal the deal with several local girls because of his working class mannerisms and a paralyzing case of teenage self-doubt, Jamie struggles to get the attention of Mary Gloucester (Judy Geeson), a beautiful classmate who doesn't seem to know he even exists.

How very 60's. 

Roddlesworth Roller Walk

Spent a magnificent sunny day in March tracking the route of the Roddlesworth Roller, a 10k Sunday run in Tockholes, Lancashire. It takes in the woods and reservoir at Roddlesworth too. As you can probably tell from the photos, leaf burst had not quite happened, so the woods let in floods of crisp and colourful light. Conveniently, the route goes past a traditional rural boozer called The Royal Arms, complete with beer garden, hearth and fire (which is apparently on all year round), and a decent selection of red wines and real ales. There are other walks you could use to take in this pub too, such as a visit to Darwen Tower (not that I'm advocating walking routes which are defined by their pubs oh no. But if you were feeling a bot boozy, you could also drop into the Hare & Hounds in Abbey Village which is at the start/ finish of this walk). The Roddlesworth Roller route has a lollypop shape, and presents little challenge in terms of navigation, so amounts to a quite enjoyable stroll.

Satish Kumar: Earth Pilgrim

Satish Kumar gave a talk in Manchester in March, which I attended. I was surprised to see there were only 100 or so people in the audience.  Having read a few of his books, I was keen to see him in the flesh. Although the vast bulk of what he said did not deviate very much from the TED talk above, it lacked much of its fire and conviction, I think on account of the fact he had a cold.

Satish only spoke for an hour or so. The rest of the time was spent in rather unfulfiling workshops and undirected "focus groups" which I felt were nothing more than the opportunity to give him a breather. Much of the Q&A at the end was also a bit turgid and opportunistic. Still, I wasn't there for the fireworks, just to pay homage to a great man. It still worries me that if Satish can't pull in more than 100 people on a visit to a city the size of Manchester, what is the world coming to. I would have been more encouraged if amongst those faithful few who were present, there were activists, leaders and formidable firebrands, but I'm afraid it did not seem so. When his generation are gone, I really fear for the world.

Bio: Satish Kumar (born 9 August 1936) is an Indian activist and editor. He has been a Jainist monk, nuclear disarmament advocate, pacifist, and is the current editor of Resurgence & Ecologist magazine. Now living in England, Kumar is founder and Director of Programmes of the Schumacher College international centre for ecological studies, and of The Small School where children learn to bake bread right at the beginning of their education. His most notable accomplishment is a peace walk with a companion to the capitals of four of the nuclear-armed countries – Washington, London, Paris and Moscow, a trip of over 8,000 miles. This Guardian article Soul Man, is a potted history of Satish Kumar and his philosophy.

He is also author of Earth Pilgrim, which is where I originally heard of him. 

Below is the full 50 minute 2008 documentary. Earth Pilgrim- A Year On Dartmoor.

One pretty good outcome was during one of the (lengthy) breaks, I went to the bookstall to see if there was anything I hadn't read which was cheap enough to buy. I had intended to get a signed copy, but as it turned out, even the small audience crowded Satish out at the end looking for "selfies" so I didn't want to be yet another demanding face. I got a copy of Spiritual Compass which has turned out to be quite a good down- to- earth description of the Ayurvedic gunas in everyday life. That's pretty useful because as it happens I am co- writing a course on Ayurveda and its helped simplify much of its complexity. So despite the anticlimax of the evening, I suppose I got something out of it. Just not what I expected.

I'd quite like to see Satish Kumar again. This time firing on all cylinders; with a large appreciative crowd, offering incisive and stirring commentary. I hope that day comes, and comes soon. His poweful message is very much needed at the moment.

Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony (1902)

The 2nd (and main) theme of the BBC Phil's Transfigured Night was Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Mahler objected to it being described in any key: "From the order of the movements (where the usual first movement now comes second) it is difficult to speak of a key for the 'whole Symphony', and to avoid misunderstandings the key should best be omitted."

Mahler wrote his fifth symphony during the summers of 1901 and 1902. In February 1901 Mahler had suffered a sudden major haemorrhage and his doctor later told him that he had come within an hour of bleeding to death. The composer spent quite a while recuperating. He moved into his own lakeside villa in the southern Austrian province of Carinthia in June 1901. Mahler was delighted with his newfound status as the owner of a grand villa. According to friends, he could hardly believe how far he had come from his humble beginnings. He was director of the Vienna Court Opera and the principal conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. His own music was also starting to be successful. Later in 1901 he met Alma Schindler and by the time he returned to his summer villa in summer 1902, they were married and she was expecting their first child. I think this is reflected in the music. It is fundamentally optimistic in its grandeur.

The Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan once said that when you hear the symphony, "you forget that time has passed. A great performance of the Fifth is a transforming experience. The fantastic finale almost forces you to hold your breath."

The Adagietto is said to represent Mahler's love song to his wife Alma. According to a letter she wrote to Willem Mengelberg, the composer left a small poem:

How much I love you, you my sun,
I cannot tell you that with words.
I can only lament to you my longing
and my love, my bliss!

The Adagietto features prominently in Luchino Visconti’s 1971 Italian- French film Death in Venice. The clip shows the final scene with a dying Dirk Bogarde, looking wistfully on as his youth disappears enigmatically into the blurring sea, striving for Avalon against the waves. There is something very utopian about this music, which delights in getting caught up in the fronds of reality.

After its premiere, Mahler is reported to have said, "Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death."  

Verklärte Nacht: Arnold Schoenberg (1899)

I had the pleasure of recently attending a BBC Philharmonic Orchestra concert at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester featuring music by Arnold Schoenberg (the orchestral version of Verklärte Nacht) and Gustav Mahler (the classic Symphony No 5 in C sharp minor). Although Mahler was the main course, I must say I was utterly blown away by Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. It truly was music of transfiguration.

This was helped along considerably by the beguiling Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare, who I am still not sure even now whether he is some kind of faunic creature owing to his magnetic physical presence. It is fair to say with him the baton becomes a magical wand carving out sigils and omens under whose spell the orchestra falls. Diminutive in stature, with a mass of afro hair and exaggerated features, he is every bit the caricature of a nineteenth century conductor, dressed in enormously extravagant coat tails, and contorting himself into every note in the manner of an electrified marionette. Without a doubt he is the most expressive conductor I have ever seen.

Conductor Rafael Payare

Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night), Op. 4, is a string sextet in one movement composed in 1899 in just three weeks, it is considered Schoenberg's earliest important work. It was inspired by Richard Dehmel's poem of the same name, combined with the influence of Schoenberg's strong feelings upon meeting Mathilde von Zemlinsky (the sister of his teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky), whom he would later marry. The movement can be divided into five distinct sections which refer to the five stanzas of Dehmel's poem. Dehmel's poem describes a man and woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night. The woman shares a dark secret with her new lover: she bears the child of another man.

Two people are walking through a bare, cold wood;
the moon keeps pace with them and draws their gaze.
The moon moves along above tall oak trees,
there is no wisp of cloud to obscure the radiance
to which the black, jagged tips reach up.

Artist Schiele Bildnis portrait of
Arnold Schönberg 1917

Verklärte Nacht was controversial at its 1902 premiere. This was due to the highly advanced harmonic idiom, although Schoenberg did receive praise for his inventiveness. Some reaction was due to the use of Dehmel's poem as inspiration, questioning the viability of setting its themes to music, or being concerned about the situation of the woman in the story.

A particular point of controversy was the use of a single 'nonexistent' (that is, uncategorized and therefore unpermitted) inverted ninth chord, which resulted in its rejection by the Vienna Music Society. Schoenberg remarked "and thus (the work) cannot be performed since one cannot perform that which does not exist"